Thursday 10 November 2016

Is the wine for drinking, or throwing?

Some may remember that title as the caption to a cartoon by Marc. It followed perhaps the most famous wine-throwing incident in modern English society, when Marc's wife, the newsreader Anna Ford, threw a glassful of wine over the Tory MP Jonathan Aitken.

Since then, wine-throwing seems to have become a regular occurrence on reality dramas and soap operas, much more so than in real life. Although to be fair, so has murder.

Part of the reason why wine-throwing is such a shocking act is that it is clearly taking place in a civilised situation – because otherwise you wouldn’t be drinking wine. It’s the sort of social scenario in which every word, every handshake, every disposal of an olive stone is governed by convention. And here you are, behaving in extremity, the very thing social etiquette is designed to stifle.

It’s not brutally animalistic, like throwing a punch, but it’s a very public statement that someone has pushed you beyond the rules which govern social behaviour. And it’s at close range, both physically and socially; after all, you must be standing virtually toe to toe. You are, for that moment at least, in the same intimate space.

But is it instinctive? Surely not. Throwing a glass of wine at someone is a calculated act, not a spur of the moment thing at all. Otherwise party guests would simply chuck whatever was at hand, and be tossing canap├ęs at each other. And I find no record of anyone suffering a faceful of cocktail sausage.

There’s a fine screen history of drink-throwing, going all the way from a 1914 silent short called Wages of Sin to an episode of Girls. But it depicts a completely random collection of drinks and cocktails, and in real life, when it comes to the mechanics of throwing a drink, wine is ideal. The base of a wineglass fits snugly below your fist, so there is no danger of throwing the glass itself. A straight glass, whether pint or highball, can easily slip out of your hand, causing injury to more than just someone’s reputation.

Wine is also a litter-free drink. You really only want to be throwing liquid, not tossing ice-cubes, paper umbrellas and plastic stirrers into someone’s eye. Please, no olives on toothpicks; if you want to settle an argument with pointy sticks, take up fencing.

And wine is relatively expensive. If you simply wanted to throw liquid over someone, economic considerations would surely suggest water. Not just the cost of the drink itself – and you may well need another one to recover afterwards – but of any cleaning bills you might receive later, from victim, curtain-owning host, or surrounding partygoers suffering collateral damage.

But all this adds to the element of sacrifice. You have this civilised, delicious and expensive liquid in your hand, and yet you are willing to throw it away. You are clearly very, very upset.

Red or white? Well, there’s an increased shock from a chilled white, as opposed to a blood-temperature red. But weigh that against the longevity of the event, the unmistakable blazon of red wine which then has to be removed, the victim’s walk of visible shame to a bathroom to clean up. 

While you turn on your heel, and walk away. Your point has been made. You do not wait for them to chuck something back, which would reduce the whole event to the comic value of a food fight. You simply leave, your point emphatically and publicly made.

In drama, wine-throwing has been reduced to the status of a minor tantrum; but in real life, it remains rare and memorable. Anna Ford was interviewed on Desert Island Discs in 2012, almost thirty years after the event, and host Kirsty Young still asked about the incident in which (no doubt concerned about m’learned colleagues listening in) she euphemistically suggested that wine “came into contact with” the Tory MP. Ms Ford not only remained unrepentant, but said that “quite a lot” of people had congratulated her over the years.

”Because he had taken over TVam, and I was a founding member of that company, and I was fired summarily after coming off air having not been paid by the company for two years… So I saw him at a party several months later, and he came towards me, and I had my wineglass filled up, and I walked over, and threw it at him, because that’s how I was feeling. And I don’t regret it at all.”

So just remember, that glass of wine may be for throwing, rather than drinking. And my advice to cads, bounders and blackguards in this party season? Keep yourself out of arm’s way.


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